Chapter 1:

Hunter and Beasts

Black X White


The young man wasn’t able to suppress a shudder as he crossed the road. Even though it was night, there was no reason for the streets to be so…empty. Usually, Sanctuary City was a lot more lively even in the middle of the night, yet for some reason not a single soul could be seen.

Windows were closed, doors were locked tightly, and the lights were out. The buildings resembled little more than shadowy towers, illuminated dimly by the rows of streetlamps that lined either side of the road. The boy looked around fearfully, his hands clenched tightly into fists. The tension around him so thick it could almost be cut with a knife.

I felt sorry for him. The fresh-faced youngster couldn’t be older than sixteen, and yet he was already dispatched on an actual mission. I had heard the instructors at Venator Academy were speeding up the curriculum, but even so the junior in front of me reminded me of myself a year ago, when I first enrolled in Venator and was completely ignorant of the dangers to come.

“Jake.”

Jake Blake jolted up when I called out to him, almost tripping over his feet as he lashed out in instinct. I sighed and caught his shoulder, straightening him before he could fall over.

“Relax, Jake.”

“Ah, senior Hei. Sorry. I didn’t mean to…”

“It’s okay. This is your first mission, right? Just relax.” I nodded and stepped to the front. “Stay behind me, but don’t lose sight of the others.”

Glancing to the front, I felt a stab of irritation. Martin Freeman and the others had gone ahead, leaving the newest member of our team behind. Perhaps they had taken it for granted that I would take care of the rookie. I usually took on that role, partly because nobody else wanted to do it, but mostly because I felt obligated to do so.

My late sensei, Bryce Lee, had taught me almost everything I knew. I aspired to be a mentor like him, to spread his teachings to the younger Hunters. Also, I knew my dad approved. Dad didn’t like glory seekers, and I sort of inherited that from him too. Everything about Hunters I didn’t learn from sensei, I learned from my dad. Between the two of them, I hoped I had learned enough to teach others. When I graduated, I wanted to become an instructor at Venator.

“The first rule of Hunting. Never be caught alone anywhere.” Pushing my glasses up my nose, I did a quick scan of the area. Martin and the others were still within sight, which was good. Even from afar, Martin’s distinct tall and muscular frame was visible. He was a suave, handsome guy with dark hair and a great smile. He and the others were pulling away, though. “If anything happens to you, at least somebody is aware and can help immediately.”

“U…understood…”

Good lord, the kid’s teeth were chattering. Then again, I was probably on the verge of pissing my pants during my first mission, so I didn’t blame him. I couldn’t remember much other than fragments. And that I screwed up. Fortunately, my seniors were around to haul my ass out of the fire, or I would…well, best not to think about it.

“Anyway, we should speed up, or Martin and the others will leave us behind.”

“Yes, senior.”

We hastened our pace, jogging along the pavement and attempting to close the distance. I felt a sense of relief when they stopped, giving us a chance to catch up. But that relief was dashed when I heard familiar growls.

“Beasts!” Jake’s face turned pale. He swallowed, but put on a determined expression. Ignoring my instructions from earlier, he reached for his device and sprinted forward to join the other seniors in combat. Even with my shortsightedness, I could see Martin and the others already embroiled in combat in a distance. Dark shadows flitted about, surrounding them before striking swiftly, forcing the team into a defensive ring. Jake cursed. “We have to help them!”

Normally, I would have agreed. But I yanked him back roughly, eliciting an astonished yelp from him.

“Senior Hei?! What are you doing?!”

I didn’t have to answer, for the wall right next to Jake was immediately demolished. A massive behemoth reared up, accompanied by a pack of smaller shadows.

Beasts. Distinct from the myriad animals that roamed the wilderness, the term was used to describe the shadowy creatures that emerged from the Abyss to invade our world of Gaia. Not much was known about them aside from fragments of mythology. Apparently they were victims infected by the Taint…dark energies created from maelstroms of negative emotions such as fear, hatred, anger and jealousy. Other legends painted them as the products of lost souls unable to move on, devoured by the Taint and corrupted by negative emotions and energies before fully transforming into monsters. The embodiments of death, they sought only to destroy the living. Whatever the case, they were the single most formidable threat to humanity, and it was the job of Hunters to exterminate them.

“…ah…ah…” Jake murmured. I was reminded of my own catatonic state when I encountered Beasts for the first time on the battlefield, but I pushed away that nightmarish memory and stepped between him and our assailants.

The largest of them was the Behemoth, a massive wolf-like creature that was over five meters tall and bristling with spike-like fur. It was accompanied by smaller Hounds, each the height of a man but baring fangs the size of daggers. Their slavering jaws snapped incessantly as they growled. I could hear their distinct howls from afar and concluded that Martin and the others were also fighting Hounds and a couple of Behemoths.

They were currently occupied with their own opponents, which meant that Jake and I were on our own.

“No…no…”

Jake was gasping breathlessly. The nightmarish aura that emanated from the Beasts was not something insignificant. The shadowy entrails that flicked outward, intangible and insubstantial were what we called the Taint. The manifestation of all negative emotions, condensed into demonic bodies and taking the form of predatory monsters. It was enough to overwhelm any normal person.

That was why it was such a shock for rookie Hunters when they found themselves face to face with a major Beast for the first time. I had most likely passed out during my first mission, so Jake was actually doing better than me.

“Jake.” My voice was sharp and clear, and I hoped my words would snap him out of his stupor. “Watch closely. This is how you fight Beasts.”

I slid my own device out from the sleeve of my uniform jacket. Jake dragged his eyes from the terrifying form of the Behemoth and to my weapon.

“Nunchaku?”

It was a pair of rods that were chained together by metallic links. I shrugged, but before I could say a word, one of the Hounds pounced on me.

With a single stroke, I spun the nunchaku about and smashed the face of the Hound, sending it careening to the ground. Without pausing, I whirled around and kicked it in the gut, sending it flying into the wall. The impact demolished the wall, burying the poor creature under a pile of debris.

The second and third Hounds lunged, forcing me to duck under one of them while I smacked the other with the nunchaku. It reeled and slashed at me, but I stepped back to evade its lethally curved claws before kicking it in the jaw and knocking it back.

“Hei! Watch out! More of them are coming!”

Even without Jake’s warning, I could see from the corner of my eye that at least five Hounds were bounding toward my position. The nunchaku wasn’t going to cut it.

“Jake, do you know that you can unseal your device?”

“Unseal?”

As I thought, he didn’t know. It wasn’t something that the academy thought the first year students, but it was something that sensei pounded into my skull when I followed him. Sometimes it meant the difference between life and death.

“Channel your mana into your device like this…and open it up. With the correct command, you’ll be able to unlock a good portion of your device’s potential.”

Closing my eyes, I focused. Taking a deep breath, I whispered, “Reap, Black and White.”

Black energies flowed from my hands and into the nunchaku. A brilliant light suffused both rods and the chains that linked them, and my weapon transformed. The chains lengthened and the rods extended, transforming into twin sickles, one black and one white. A pair of kusarigama weapons, linked together by a single chain, one held in each hand.

“That’s…?”

Jake gaped in amazement, but I demonstrated instead of explained. Spinning the black sickle in my right hand, I tossed it at one of the pouncing Hounds. Like a razor-sharp disc, it sliced through the Beast’s body almost effortlessly, cleaving it in half.

I then raised the white sickle with my left hand to parry the slavering fangs of another Hound. Keeping its jaws at bay and away from my throat, I dug my feet in and grunted from the effort. For a moment, it appeared that I was pinned down, and a third Hound took advantage of my situation to charge at me.

With a slight tug on the chains, I yanked the black sickle back. Rapidly spinning about, it decapitated the pouncing Hound before it could reach me. I seized the returning weapon in a single deft movement. Catching the neck of the second Hound between the scythes, I then slit its carotid artery and jugular vein before kicking its bleeding corpse off me.

“Awesome…”

“It’s not over yet!” I warned him, jumping away when the Behemoth finally deigned to attack. Seeking to avenge its dead minions, it bellowed before swiping at me with a claw and trying to clamp its sword-sized teeth around me. I darted away, slashing at it with Black and White, but the sickles barely penetrated its thick fur. Evidently, the spiky coat served as a form of armor.

“No way!” Jake exclaimed in horror.

“Just get back!” I snapped.

“But you can’t defeat such a massive Beast on your own! Let me help!”

Forgetting his fear, Jake scrambled to his feet and activated his device, which was a sword. It was a very ordinary looking sword, the most common device that the majority of Hunters picked. Even so, it had remained sealed, and there was little an amateur could do against a Beast of the Behemoth’s level.

“No! Stay back!”

The rookie didn’t heed my warning and continued rushing forward, swinging his sword. The blade collided against the Behemoth’s flank, only to snap off.

“Eh?”

Jake stared at his broken sword blankly, as if unable to comprehend what had just happened. The Behemoth snarled irritably and raised a claw to eviscerate him. Before it could fully swing the huge paw, I barreled into Jake, hurling him far to the side and out of the reach of the claws.

Unfortunately, I was swatted away by the paw, taking the full brunt of the blow. My glasses were smashed immediately, the lenses shattering from the impact, and my chest felt as if it was caved in. Two, no, three broken ribs. A collapsed lung. Blood spurted from my mouth before I crashed into a wall and vanished underneath a pile of rubble. The immense pain almost caused me to black out.

“Hei!”

Jake scrambled to his feet, horrified. He glanced to the front, waving his hands in panic.

“Senior Martin! Carl! Somebody help! Hei is…!”

Martin scoffed even as he dodged a strike from the Behemoth he was engaging. His broadsword gleamed as he severed the paw of the shrieking Beast with a single strike.

“I wouldn’t worry about Hei.”

“But he…”

“You might want to worry about yourself first,” Carl Juan said, vaulting over a kick from the Behemoth’s hind legs and leaving an ugly scar with his massive axe. Blood erupted and the Behemoth howled in agony.

Carl Juan’s olive skin gleamed against the light from the lampposts as he landed, flashing a grin. Shorter than Martin, Carl was more muscular, looking almost like a bodybuilder. Anyone who mistook his mass for fat would be in great trouble. The guy could lift that hundred kilogram axe with a single hand as if it weighed nothing.

Jake turned around and saw that the Behemoth was indeed advancing upon him, its slobbering jaws open wide as if to swallow him whole. Lumbering forward, it swung a paw down to crush him.

Jake screamed, cowering as his entire body was engulfed in shadow. He squeezed his eyes shut and braced himself for impending death.

The claws never reached him.

Chains wrapped around the paw, jerking it to a sudden halt. Stepping out of the debris, I yanked the leashed paw back, the sharp scythes of the black sickle digging into what would be the wrist of the Behemoth. With a snarl, it turned around to glare at me with those beady black eyes, but I simply smiled despite my current condition.

Blood was streaming down the side of my head and from my mouth, the twisted frame of my broken glasses hanging loosely from my ears and almost sliding off my nose.

“Hei!” Jake cried, half in relief and half in horror. In the distance, Martin chuckled.

“There’s a reason why they call Bai Hei the Undying.”

I scowled. Martin knew I hated that nickname, yet he insisted on using it. However, I didn’t have the time to argue over such trivial matters. Instead, I pulled the Behemoth back, the chains going taut from the strain. Fortunately, I didn’t have to exert too much strength for long. The Behemoth suddenly stumbled and coughed, blood gurgling from its lips. It whirled around furiously and began bounding toward me.

“Jake,” I called out to my junior, who stiffened sharply. “Watch. This is how you deal with a Beast like a Behemoth.”

Kicking off the ground, I launched myself at the incoming Behemoth. Landing right in front of it, I then whirled about and slammed my foot into its face, spinning it to the side. While the Behemoth reeled from the blow, still tangled from the chains of my Black and White, I leaped high into the air before descending in an arc. Bringing one leg up, I swung it down to deliver a heel drop onto the Behemoth’s crown, obliterating its skull in a single blow.

The carcass slid down, blood spilling from its pulped head. I retracted the chains and returned Black and White into the smaller nunchaku form before slipping the device back into the folds of my uniform jacket.

“Senior Hei! Are you all right?”

Jake was running toward me, huffing. He stared at me with wide eyes, running his gaze up and down the length of my body to search for any sign of injuries.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” The throbbing had completely disappeared. I brushed the dust off my chest and offered him a reassuring smile, but he wasn’t buying it.

“But earlier, you…”

“I told you, there’s a reason why Hei is called the Undying.”

Martin swaggered toward us, having dispatched his opponent. Several dozen meters away, the second and third Behemoths lay, surrounded by the corpses of smaller Hounds. Carl and the others accompanied him, looking out for further enemies.

“...I see.” Jake looked doubtful, but he couldn’t deny that I was standing right in front of him, seemingly unhurt. He glanced at the Behemoth I had just slain and frowned when he noticed something weird.

The Behemoth’s chest had been caved in.

“How…? I only saw Hei kick its head…when did you attack its chest as well?”

“Oh.” I grinned mysteriously and pushed my broken glasses up my nose. “Now that’s a secret.”

Xan Ti
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Dilobre
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WALKER
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